Whether looking for a classic lager, hoppy IPA, tart sour beer or strong stout, there’s no region in New York with more options for beer drinkers than the Hudson Valley.
There are 65 licensed craft breweries in the Mid-Hudson Valley, according to state data released June 14, leading all of New York state.
The region, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties, has added 54 licensed craft breweries since 2012, representing almost 500 percent growth.
The numbers prove the region stands out even within a statewide craft beverage industry that’s doubled in size over the past six years.
The numbers came in an announcement from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office that heralded the state exceeding 1,000 total licenses for craft beverage manufacturers. That includes wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries.
New York ranks in the top five states for every one of those adult beverages: first in U.S. for the number of hard cider producers, second in craft distillers, third in breweries and fourth in the country for the total number of wineries, according to state data.
The Mid-Hudson Valley has led that growth. The region added 93 craft beverage producers last year, the most in the state.
The region is home to 16 cider producers and 27 distilleries, both of which also lead the state. Meanwhile, its 59 wineries trail only Long Island’s 79 and the Finger Lakes region’s 105.
“These are obviously great numbers for the region and something we’ll continue to see grow, which is exciting,” said Mike Oates, the executive director of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp.
He said the growth is driven in part by the region’s proximity to the New York City market.
“I also think you can look at some of the success of the earlier breweries in the area: places like Captain Lawrence, Peekskill and Yonkers breweries,” Oates said. “Establishments like that have really started to make a name for themselves and I think that breeds success and competition.”
Tommy Keegan has watched the industry grow up around his brewery, Keegan Ales. When he launched his company out of a defunct brewery space in midtown Kingston in 2003, he said his operation joined just a couple restaurant breweries as the only beer producers between New York City and Albany.
Keegan, who started his brewing career on the West Coast before brewing at Blue Point Brewery on Long Island, attributed the growth to several factors. Craft beer’s popularity spread from the West Coast to the east, and New York made brewing licenses easier to come by.
“The Hudson Valley itself has got a reputation for its agriculture community, not just in the beer world but in many ways,” Keegan said. “The beer world has been able to follow that.”
Yonkers Brewing Co. was established six years ago, just as the region’s major growth in breweries and craft beverage producers was getting started. Founder John Rubbo said the brewery focuses on beers “for the everyday consumer as they’re experimenting a bit more in craft beer.” Though with a new head brewer, Yonkers is expanding its options.
To Rubbo, more breweries means more interest in trying Hudson Valley beers.
“More and more people want to drink something local,” Rubbo said. “Having so many awesome local breweries, it makes it such an easy choice to say ‘I want to drink something local and I want to drink something high quality.’”
Sing Sing Kill Brewery in Ossining is the newest brewer on the block for Westchester. Its tasting room opened on Spring Street in the village at the beginning of June. Co-owner Eric Gearity told the Business Journal that the main reason for opening in Ossining was simple: it’s where he and his co-owner live and they wanted to brew beer and help their downtown at the same time.
But Gearity said there are advantages specific to being in the Hudson Valley and New York. Sing Sing Kill is a farm brewery that relies on access to high-quality malt and hops grown in the region.
He also agreed that the Hudson Valley’s proximity to New York City provides an advantage. A New York City beer lover could hop on a train out of Grand Central and make stops at the Yonkers Brewery, Sing Sing Kill and Peekskill Brewery, not to mention options at points farther north in Beacon and Poughkeepsie.
“The more breweries there are in a region, the more that region becomes a destination for tourism, and especially people seeking breweries,” Gearity said.
The governor said at least part of the state’s explosive growth can be attributed to policy changes. Cuomo’s announcement described hearing out craft beverage businesses in a 2012 summit and then adjusting laws and regulations to make it easier to open for business.
Those efforts include lowering taxes and fees, creating new licenses for craft breweries and cideries and cutting the time it takes to receive a license.
Oates’ HVEDC runs an “industry cluster” initiative focused on fostering connections within the region’s food and beverage industry. As Oates describes it, there are a number of related businesses that grow along with the craft beverage industry.
Retailers and restaurants can attract new clientele by offering locally produced options. Visitors to breweries and wineries drive tourism spending. Farms in turn would add hops and malt grain to their crops.
Cuomo’s announcement cited a Cornell University study that found the acreage of hops grown in New York has nearly doubled from 2014 to 2016, and the acreage of malting barley has increased by 374 percent in the same period, from 422 acres to about 2,000 acres.
New York doesn’t keep exact data on employment in the brewing or craft beverage industries, but a federal Department of Labor report released last year found that nationwide employment in breweries increased 135 percent from 2010 to 2016, with the industry adding 33,716 jobs.
Within the Mid-Hudson Valley, Ulster County is easily home to the most craft beverage producers, with 53 total. Ulster residents and visitors can choose from 27 wineries, 14 breweries, 8 distilleries and 4 cideries within county lines, according to data provided by the New York State Liquor Authority.
Orange County has the second most craft beverage producers with 37 — 15 wineries, 12 breweries, 7 distilleries and 3 cideries.
Westchester County, meanwhile, features 4 wineries, 11 breweries, 5 distilleries and 2 cideries, according to state data.
The natural question amid the rapid growth is whether a beer boom could eventually result in a beer bust.
Keegan cautioned that the road to success could grow tougher for local breweries as competition increases.
“There’s a lot of breweries and a lot of different beers in every brewery,” Keegan said. “But the number of tap handles in the market, and shelves in the supermarket, are not growing at the same rate, so the pie is getting thinner.”
He said having a point of differentiation or specialized product will be important for breweries. That, and an established local brand.
“For the breweries that have a strong local following, that can help carry them through some dangerous seas,” Keegan said.